United States District Court, D. Connecticut
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION DENYING GROUND 2 OF MOTION TO
VACATE, SET ASIDE, OR CORRECT SENTENCE UNDER 28 U.S.C. §
2255 [DKT. 1]
Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge.
February 22, 2018, this Court ruled on all but one claim in
Ralston Williams's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or
Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Dkt. 11]. The
Court denied Mr. Williams's motion on each of those
claims, Grounds 1, 3, and 4, including assertions that (1)
his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to request that
the jury determine the drug quantity beyond reasonable doubt,
(2) the Court erred in determining the drug quantity at
sentencing by using a preponderance of the evidence standard,
and (3) his sentencing counsel was ineffective for failing to
object to testimony from Ms. Jessica Burrows's family
members. The Court withheld judgment on Ground 2, Mr.
Williams's claim that defense counsel failed to properly
advise him of his right to testify, and ordered an
evidentiary hearing to develop the record on that limited
heard testimony regarding Ground 2 at the August 2, 2018
evidentiary hearing and reviewed the subsequent briefing by
the parties, the Court now finds that Mr. Williams's has
failed to show ineffective assistance of counsel and DENIES
the final claim in his Motion.
September 14, 2011, a grand jury charged Mr. Williams, with a
three-count indictment of (1) conspiracy to distribute and to
possess with intent to distribute heroin in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 846, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); (2)
possession with intent to distribute heroin in violation of
21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C); and (3) possession
with intent to distribute cocaine base / crack cocaine in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). See
United States v. Williams
(“Williams”), No. 11-cr-00172, [Dkt. 13
(Indictment)]. Co-defendants Jason Brodsky
(“Brodsky”), Bruce Dais (“Dais”), and
Alana Fiorentino (“Fiorentino”) were charged only
with the first count. Id. Mr. Williams entered a
plea of not guilty on September 29, 2011. See
Williams, [Dkt. 29 (Minute Entry)]. Unlike Mr. Williams,
his co-defendants each entered into a plea agreement prior to
trial. See Williams, [Dkt. 92 (Fiorentino Plea
Agreement); Dkt. 138 (Brodsky Plea Agreement); Dkt. 145 (Dais
to trial, Mr. Williams filed a motion to suppress evidence
resulting from a warrantless search of Mr. Dais's home,
where Mr. Williams was located on September 7, 2011, and
where the police came upon him clothed and sitting on a sofa
napping in the middle of the day with bags of controlled
substances on his lap and arrested him. Williams,
[Dkt. 124 (Mot. Suppress)]. In particular, Mr. Williams
sought to suppress evidence that heroin and crack cocaine had
been on or near his person when police found him, claiming a
violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against
unreasonable search and seizure. The Government challenged
Mr. Williams standing, asserting that he was not an overnight
guest at the residence with a reasonable expectation of
privacy and that exigent circumstances warranted entry and
search of the property. Williams, [Dkt. 150
(Opp'n Mot. Suppress)].
Court held a hearing on the motion on May 2, 2012.
Williams, [Dkt. 155 (Minute Entry of Suppression
Hr'g)]. At the hearing, Mr. Williams testified in support
of his argument that he was an overnight guest at Mr.
Dais's home and had a legitimate expectation of privacy
there. Williams, [Dkt. 302 (Suppression Hr'g
Tr.)]. The Government had represented in its opposition to
the motion that law enforcement officer's observed Mr.
Dias conducting a hand to hand drug transaction in front of
the residence, chased Mr. Dias in and through the residence
in a hot pursuit entry and conducted a limited security sweep
of the residence. [Dkt. 150 at 3-4]. The Government also
elicited testimony from Mr. Williams that he did not know the
name of the owner of the residence, only had a sweat suit to
change into but no bag or suitcase, and was at a casino the
night before his arrest and therefore was not an overnight
guest. Id. at 14:13-16; 15:14-17:1; 31:7-19. After
listening to the testimony, the Court denied the motion to
suppress, finding that Mr. Williams was devoid of any
credibility and concluding that he was not an overnight guest
as claimed, but was a casual guest, and that the
Government's search of the residence was justified by
exigent circumstances. Id. at 39:9-40:10.
commenced on May 18, 2012, and lasted four days.
Co-defendants Fiorentino and Brodsky testified on behalf of
the Government. See Williams, [Dkt. 220 (Trial Tr.
5/18/12 Vol. I) at 2; Dkt. 222 (Trial Tr. 5/24/12 Vol. II) at
10]. Mr. Williams did not take the stand at trial. On May 29,
2012, the jury found Mr. Williams guilty on all three counts.
See Williams, [Dkt. 174 (Jury Verdict)].
Court held the sentencing hearing on May 14, 2013. At the
hearing, Kim Burrows, the mother of Ms. Jessica Burrows, a
young woman who had died from an overdose of heroine
purchased from one of Mr. Williams's drug dealers,
testified about her daughter's characteristics and the
impact of her daughter's death on the family. See
Williams, [Dkt. 315 (Sentencing Tr.) at 18:5-23:4]. Mr.
Williams's friend, daughter, and sister then spoke on his
behalf. See Id. at 25:12- 28:19.
Williams also testified about the matters for which he took
responsibility, his compassion for people addicted to drugs,
including the decedent, his efforts to dissuade the decedent
from using the drugs he continued to traffic, and that he was
“not a big drug dealer.” See Id. at
29:1-33:10. After considering the testimony, the Court
sentenced Mr. Williams to 168 months' imprisonment; three
years' supervised release; a fine of $100, 000 to be paid
if he is deported and illegally reenters; and a $300 special
assessment. Id. at 38:11-40:9.
Williams timely appealed the jury verdict and his sentence,
specifically, the ruling on his motion to suppress the
narcotics, the ruling regarding his role in the offense, and
the ruling on the quantity of heroine. See Williams,
[Dkt. 305 (Notice of Appeal)]. On June 20, 2014, the Second
Circuit issued a summary order affirming both his conviction
and sentence. Williams, [Dkt. 344]. Mr. Williams did
not file a petition for writ of certiorari and his time to do
so expired on September 18, 2014. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2101(c) (requiring a writ of certiorari to be filed
within 90 days after the entry of judgment).
Williams timely filed this habeas petition on August 31,
2015. See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1). On February
22, 2018, the Court denied all Grounds in Mr. Williams's
§ 2255 Motion except Ground 2-claiming his trial counsel
was ineffective for failing to properly advise him of his
right to testify and for overriding his desire to testify at
trial. [Dkt. 11 (Feb. 22, 2018 Order)]. The Court ordered an
evidentiary hearing to gather evidence as to whether trial
counsel properly advised Mr. Williams of his right to
August 2, 2018, the Court held the evidentiary hearing. Mr.
Williams and his trial counsel, Attorney O'Reilly,
testified at the hearing. See [Dkt. 29 (Hr'g
Audio)]. Mr. Williams testified that, while Attorney
O'Reilly told him that he had the right to testify at
trial, Attorney O'Reilly consistently said that he would
not let Mr. Williams get on the stand. Id. at 31-33.
Mr. Williams testified that, as a result, he believed that it
was ultimately his lawyer's decision whether he would
testify, not his own. Id.
O'Reilly testified that, while he could not remember the
exact conversions he had with Mr. Williams on the topic, it
was his custom and practice to advise his clients that it was
their right to testify at trial, and their decision whether
to do so. Id. at 1:22-1:42. He testified that he
advised Mr. Williams against taking the stand at his trial
for a number of reasons, but did not remember any significant
conflict between himself and Mr. Williams regarding the
decision to testify. Id.
hearing, Mr. Williams's counsel argued that a failure to
properly advise a client of his right to testify is a
structural error, which requires automatic vacatur of his
conviction without further inquiry into the prejudice he may
or may not have suffered. Id. at 1:47-49. Mr.
Williams's counsel requested, and the Court allowed, the
parties to brief this issue. Id.
2255 enables a prisoner in federal custody to petition a
federal court to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence.
28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). Relief under Section 2255 is
generally available “only for a constitutional error, a
lack of jurisdiction in the sentencing court, or an error of
law or fact that constitutes a fundamental defect which
inherently results in complete miscarriage of justice.”
Graziano v. United States, 83 F.3d 587, 590 (2d Cir.
1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Section 2255 provides that a district court should grant a